Organizers gather strength for the next push in the Black Lives Matter movement

Andy Downing
Protesters march down Broad Street on behalf of George Floyd during a protest in Downtown Columbus on May 31.

Prolonged protest movements can be physically and emotionally taxing, which explains part of why local Black Lives Matter actions, which erupted in late May following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, have waned some in recent weeks.

“It really just seems a lot of folks don’t understand the work it takes to continue protesting,” said Women Have Options co-chair Samantha Sizemore. “People who are newer to this don’t understand the effects of pure burnout that come from doing this day after day. … Honestly, this movement has existed for a long time, and I know George Floyd was a catalyst to get a lot of people out there initially, but those of us who are part of coalitions, or are abolitionists, do understand the work it takes, because we’ve been out here time and time again, even before June.”

With that idea in mind, Women Have Options (WHO) is joining with the Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice to stage a weekend rally dubbed “150 Days of Injustice: Revitalize Black Lives.” The event, which kicks off at Goodale Park on Saturday, Aug. 1, serves myriad purposes, opening at 11 a.m. as a collective catching of the breath featuring meditations and discussions on topics such as protest safety and creating sustainable movements, and then closing with renewed calls to action and a subsequent march to the Ohio Statehouse. At its core, though, the daylong affair, which takes its name from the roughly 150 days that have passed since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her home by Louisville police, will function as a reminder of the important work still to come.

“We want to get people reenergized and refocused, and remind them of why we’re still out here, and that a movement is something that has to be worked at to be sustained,” Sizemore said. “I’m hoping that talking with folks … and allowing them to ask questions, getting them more prepared than they were, will help us continue this very strongly. … I think we scatter really quickly, especially when police are involved, and I’m hoping this can remind us of our collective power, and allow us to have some better protests that can really stick.”

Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

Part ofthe event description on Facebook references a desire “to move from individual protests to collective action,” which Sizemore traced to the splintering effect that can take place in any large, diverse movement. One group of protesters might call for defunding the police, for example, while another might embrace working more closely with the City Council to improve police oversight. To that end, Sizemore said that it’s important to give each voice within the movement agency “It’s important that any individual person be able to speak up and speak out,” she said while also continuing tocenter efforts around the organizations that have been engaged in this kind of work for years

“I think we needed to reorganize and have these protests led again by those who are experienced, and to remind people not to reinvent the wheel when it comes to a movement like this. When it comes to Black Lives Matter, when it comes to police brutality, the work is already being done, and it’s always been led by organizations or coalitions with very experienced abolitionists. … And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Sizemore said. “You really just have to research how you can get involved, how you can work with folks like BQIC (Black, Queer & Intersectional Collective) or ROOTT (Restoring Our Own Through Transformation), or even just us at WHO. Groups who have experienced Black leaders, who are educated [in the issues] and who have the experience behind them.”

But even for veteran organizers like Sizemore, the intensity of this current round of protests has been eye opening. She described the first weekend of Downtown protests as feeling “like a straight up warzone,” pointing to the aggressive actions of police, which she traced to demonstrators calling officers' authority into question. Sizemore said that the collective experience altered something inside of her with which she was still coming to terms.

“It has changed a lot in me and shifted my views, even in terms of how I view the Black Lives Matter movement. It makes you look at the world differently, and not always in a negative way, but even as a Black person I didn’t realize how heavy this could get,” Sizemore said. “In a strange way, it probably hardened me, and made me a bit braver, I guess. There are still a lot of feelings about it I have to unpack.”

But these lingering internal complexities haven't eroded Sizemore’s desire to fight for racial justice, and she remains heartened by some of the progress that has been made, pointing to a Columbus City Council that at least appears willing to seriously address protesters’ concerns.

“I had never focused much on the City Council … because generally our City Council has just been there to follow the orders of the mayor, where he brings forth a policy and they all vote yes on it. … But it’s interesting because now it seems like they’re not all saying yes, and they’re at least considering the policies that are coming through to them in regards to CPD,” said Sizemore, who views even this modest progress as a crack on which to continue pressing in the weeks and months ahead. “We need to be out here pushing forth, even though it’s exhausting, reminding folks of the lives that have been lost, that haven’t received justice. … We have to get things moving again, to recapture the energy we had [in June]. We need to keep the momentum up.”